One of the most telling political moments during CNN’s Republican debate last night came toward the end, when host John King and three out of four candidates — Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — had a brief chat about a topic near and dear to GOP hearts, abortion rights. Then, after a few minutes of the typical “I love life most” rhetoric, King then tried to change the subject, either intentionally or accidentally glossing over Ron Paul. Well, the crowd was not having it. They began yelling the Texas congressman’s name, forcing King to turn attention back to abortion, an area on which Paul says his medical experience makes him an expert.
“It’s a medical subject and I’m a doctor!” he said, to laughs. “I do want to make a couple of comments because I can remember the very early years studying obstetrics and I was told — and it was before the age of abortion. And I was told taking care of a woman that’s pregnant, you have two patients. And I think that’s — that solves a lot of the problems of life — you know, when life begins and all.”
Alright, fair enough: that’s what doctors were told back when Paul began his medical career in 1961. That was also an era when almost everyone and their mom smoked cigarettes, ate copious amounts of red meat and unabashedly drove drunk. It was a different era, obviously before “Roe v. Wade.”
After pausing for applause, Paul went on to draw a misleading, moralistic conclusion about abortion’s rise in acceptance during that period:
I also experienced a time later on in my training, in the 1960s when the culture was changing. The Vietnam War was going on. The drugs were there and pornography and everything came in. And abortion became prevalent, even though it was illegal. So the morality of the country changed, but then the law followed up. When the morality changed, it will — reflects on the laws.
Ah, so drugs and pornography that are responsible for unwanted pregnancies. Women who get abortions are either sex workers or drug addicts, not single, rape victims, lower-class, “guilty” of a simple mistake or anything like that. They were just deviants, right? That makes sense. To Paul and his peers, at least.
Paul also used his time to argue that loose morals changed the legal system, spawning laws that allow hospitals receiving government money to fund abortion. “This is an indictment of government-run medicine because you never can sort that all out. You need the government out of that business or you will always argue over who’s paying what bills,” he said.
Santorum jumped in here to reiterate he believes “Roe v. Wade” should be overturned all together and that there need to be federal restrictions in place, presenting Paul an opportunity to synthesize his states’ rights philosophy with the trusted social conservatism so deeply bred into the abortion battle: abortion is a “violent act,” just like murder and burglary, actual, real life crimes regulated on a state level, and should be legislated as such.
I see abortion as a violent act. All other violence is handled by the states — murder, burglary, violence. That’s a state issue.
So don’t try to say that I’m less pro-life because I want to be particular about the way we do it and allow the states the prerogative. This is the solution. This is the solution. Because if we would allow the states to write their laws, take away the jurisdiction by a majority vote in the Congress, you repeal Roe versus Wade overnight, instead of waiting year after year to change the court system.
Paul found himself an anti-abortion darling at another event this week, the group Personhood USA’s gathering in Greenville, South Carolina. All the candidates — including then-contender Rick Perry — came together Wednesday to chat about how to further restrict abortion in the United States. One would have expected Santorum, recently backed by Evangelical leaders, to be the biggest draw there. It was, after all, social conservatives like the former senator who grew abortion over the years from a simple medical procedure to a reliable, tenacious and seemingly intractable wedge issue, so it makes sense that the crowd would lavish a peer in praise. Not so.
As the Daily Beast reports, Ron Paul supporters overpowered Santorum by chanting their candidate’s name during his speech, making Paul the meeting’s big winner — or at least the most lauded.
Paul’s popularity in the anti-abortion arena can be pinned on two things. First, the most obvious, is his past as a doctor. He didn’t run those commercials for nothing. His work as an OB-GYN gives him street cred among the pro-life set, and he’s using it well. The second reason seems like less of a perfect fit, but actually is: Paul’s Libertarian leanings — and I’m not just talking about states’ rights, the prevailing theoretical force in the Republican Party today.
America’s youth are the primary force behind Paul’s campaign. They turn out for him more than any other candidate, largely because they agree with his Libertarian politics. But the abortion issue to them may not be about big, bad government, but about the same exact things that motivate social conservatives — religion.
Surprisingly, almost the same percentage of younger Millenial Americans and older Americans thinks abortion should be legal: 60% and 56%, respectively. “They are no more likely than the general public to say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases,” the Public Religion Research Institute found last year. And the same is true when morality is brought into play.
Fifty percent of Millenials think abortions are morally wrong, a mere 7 points less than the general public. While younger Americans are becoming more accepting of marriage equality, they’re just as conservative as past generations when it comes to abortion, which may explain why Paul, a superstar among more youthful voters, appears to be favored among pro-lifers. That likely won’t be enough to win him the election, of course, but it’s another indication of how the Libertarian congressman from Texas helped catalyze the GOP’s ongoing evolution. No longer are social conservatives calling all the shots; there are new political philosophies afoot in the GOP, philosophies sparked largely by Paul and the Tea Party he helped spawn. Sadly for abortion rights activists, among others, these new ideas are remarkably similar to the old ones.
Here’s video of Ron Paul’s abortion response from last night’s CNN Republican debate: